Detroit News – Labor Voices: Challenges of the future offer opportunities for unions


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President Ray Curry

By Ray Curry

At the beginning of this month we observed Labor Day — a day to recognize the American labor movement and the contributions of laborers to the development and growth of our country. It’s a great way to say “thank you.”

We celebrate the work that millions of United Auto Workers and Americans contribute to our lives each and every day, in places like factories, offices, hospitals, stores, government services and educational institutions throughout our great nation.

Now is the time to take that celebration of our organized and working Americans and honor them by supporting working families throughout the coming years.

The UAW and its fellow unions have built this country’s workforce and economic backbone. We’ve solidified what the American dream can be, and we’ve mapped out how to get there. Unions, members, friends and supporters must continue this work to organize the workers of today and tomorrow. We must continue the fight for good wages, comprehensive benefits and safe, equitable workplaces.

Our job is not done.

Over the past years — even during the COVID-19 pandemic — the UAW continued to expand our presence and our successes.

Just last month, California’s Public Employment Relations Board verified that a majority of the 17,000 graduate student researchers, trainees, and fellows at the ten University of California campuses and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have chosen to unionize through Student Researchers United/UAW (SRU-UAW).

This SRU-UAW vote is the largest-ever unionization drive of academic student employees. The process of forming their union and bargaining for a better work situation has already begun.

These 17,000 workers represent the beginning of a large growth period for organized labor — not just at the UAW — but throughout the U.S. As with other workers, SRU will deliver value to their employers. They grow the university through grants and what they produce.

Yet they struggle to paying for housing and expenses and with the uncertainty of their long-term future. The SRU-UAW victory is a huge boost for the growing academic worker movement, which has gained steam in recent years.

It is a segment the UAW gladly supports. We now represent more than 100,000 academic workers at universities across the country, and have recently won unions at Harvard, Columbia and the University of Washington.

Together, unionized academic workers have fought racist and xenophobic Trump-era travel bans, turned back the Republican graduate tax, lobbied for more funding for scientific research (including COVID research) and more.

Like their union brothers and sisters before them, workers in higher education are organizing because standing together is the best way to address workplace challenges like low wages, unstable benefits and persistent harassment and discrimination.

Across the country, support for unions in general remains high. A Gallup poll estimates that 65% of all Americans approve of labor unions; including 83% of Democrats, 64% of independents and 45% of Republicans.

The COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated the benefits of unionization. Unions were crucial to ensuring health care continuation during the downturn, demanding safety precautions as well as having a voice.

But we still have a ways to go and some challenges before us.

The shift to electric vehicles in the auto industry opens a new segment of workers. It means a shift in the jobs of the future.

As other industries develop from the constantly evolving technology, we must be at the forefront of ensuring workers’ rights, informing and educating workers on their right to organize and bargain collectively for high wages, good benefits and strong workplace rights and protections. Key to that is passage of the PRO Act in Congress and passage of the Stabenow Amendment to ensure these future jobs have union wages and benefits.

The UAW and its counterparts have come a long way since our beginnings. Today, we have a great opportunity to continue to organize and grow our economy and the good middle class jobs that power this country.

As UAW members, we understand that the challenges of the future are an opportunity as well.

Ray Curry is president of the UAW.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, Teamsters President James Hoffa and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.

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